In July 2019 I posted the message below, reflecting on themes of continuity and adaptation in the Foundation’s work. Now I write at a moment when adaptation is everything, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and state-wide “shelter in place” restrictions. The collective nature of this global pandemic has reminded us of the importance of community and shared responsibility for each other’s, and our planet’s, wellbeing. But suffering has been unevenly distributed during this crisis, and we at Cowell recognize that our grantee organizations and communities are grappling with unprecedented challenges. We are adapting our support by:
Modifying grants to release restrictions, lighten requirements and provide flexibility
Proactively awarding emergency funds for relief in grantee communities
Making referrals to sources of technical support, human connection and self-care
We don’t know how our corner of California will have changed when the pandemic eventually passes, but we know that at Cowell we have always treasured our relationships with the grantees who support the social safety net and partner with the families who do the essential and often unseen work that keeps communities whole. Our philanthropy will always begin and end with them. We wish we could do more, but we are resolved to shift our resources to support our grantee communities through this crisis. Until we all can look ahead with clarity, we will carry on in solidarity and with hope.
For nearly 20 years we at Cowell have set a steady course in our philanthropy, guided by the principles of place-based grantmaking that are described here on the Foundation’s website. In that time, our program staff has visited nearly 70 communities across northern and central California, and our Board of Directors has awarded grants in more than 40 places: city neighborhoods and unincorporated areas, small towns and dispersed counties. We continue to seek opportunities to make complementary grants to organizations that serve essentially the same families, and, in time, to develop local resources and improve opportunities for community residents – especially children and youth.
In some ways, the passing years have scarcely affected our mission. Now as always, the sources of poverty run deep; nonetheless, our region is anchored by communities where geography, memory and aspiration combine to create a profound sense of place. Many of our grantee communities are navigating generational waves of change, such as the transition from work based on resource extraction to an economy that mixes sectors and industries. Because the Foundation’s assets derived originally from extractive enterprises, it has always seemed apt for Cowell to invest in communities that share in that legacy.
In other ways, however, our times and our changing environment call for adaptations. For example, having made 10 emergency grants since 2017 to aid in wildfire relief and recovery in Napa, Sonoma, Shasta, Trinity and Butte Counties, the Foundation, for the first time, included disaster relief as a category in our 2019 grants program budget. In the shattering aftermath of the November 2018 Camp Fire, our website home page – which since 2015 has featured an image of Paradise Community Village, an affordable development built with Cowell support – was transformed into a tribute and memorial. We hope the lasting image of Cowell Lane and Community Way will honor both the memory and the fortitude of those who lost their homes on Paradise Ridge.
Yet, we know commemoration is not a strategy for the future. In June 2019, Cowell ventured to new territory in our place-based philanthropy by awarding a multi-year grant to launch the Center for Learning and Resilience, a project championed by the Butte County Office of Education. While responding to the needs of families in and near Chico, including many who were displaced from Paradise, the Center is envisioned as a lighthouse for family-strengthening organizations throughout the North State region. Over the years, Cowell invested in several small towns within the vast, multi-county region; now, looking at the North State as one community of distant neighbors, we’re adapting our strategy to support extended and collective efforts across the region.
As we continue our journey of response and reflection, continuity and change, we’re grateful to you, our colleagues in service, and especially to our grantees whose work gives us purpose and inspiration.